Asthma to home damage: Storm season spells danger

SUV driving through flood waters outside of Crown Hotel

Alice Piper

Posted November 17, 2021


Storm season can wreak havoc on our homes and belongings, but do you know it can be just as dangerous to our health?  
 
When summer rolls around each year, we tend to think about the dangers of bushfires, and not necessarily storms, which can pose just as much risk to property and life.  
 
For this reason, most Australian households have a detailed fire safe plan to protect themselves. However, when a storm approaches, we usually just do the bare minimum - like shifting the cars undercover, moving pets inside and locking down loose items like outdoor furniture, trampolines and umbrellas in the backyard – to keep ourselves and possessions safe. 
 
And while these actions are taken with good reason, are they enough? 
 
Storm season – which typically falls between October and March, has seen some freak events in Melbourne over the last four years alone, causing major damage. 
 
In December 2018, flash flooding for just 30 minutes during peak hour flooded roads in Melbourne’s inner city, causing most train and tram lines to shut down in the Eastern suburbs.  
 
But storms can also be a threat all year round – underlining the need to be vigilant. 
 
In August 2020, severe storms in Southern Victoria killed three people and saw 80 suburbs put under a boil water notice for four days. 
 
And in June 2021, a powerful storm ravaged Gippsland (Traralgon), Southern Metropolitan Melbourne, Eastern Melbourne (Dandenong Ranges) and Central Victoria. 
 
“Severe storms can cause a huge amount of damage to our homes and contents, resulting in thousands of insurance claims across the state,” says Kirsty Hayes, Head of Home Insurance at RACV.  
 
“But what many people may not realise is the damage that storms can cause to our health too.”

Mother giving her son an asthma inhailer

Strong winds that disperse pollen in storms can cause major breathing problems for people with asthma. Image: Getty


Hidden health danger of severe storms

In addition to the risk of falling branches, flood waters and lightning strikes, severe storm events bring the risk of thunderstorm asthma, which poses a significant risk to human  
life.

Thunderstorm asthma attacks are triggered by pollen grains absorbing moisture during a storm that then burst into smaller fragments, get dispersed by the wind, and then pass into the lungs of people – causing major health risks. 

The largest epidemic thunderstorm asthma event in the world occurred in Melbourne in November 2016, when up to ten people were killed and hundreds more were hospitalised, overloading emergency services. High heat and humidity caused thunderstorms to form in the northwest of the city, and because of excessive grass growth in the area, the storm sent pollen into Melbourne suburbs, increasing pollen counts and triggering the attacks.  
 
The National Asthma Council says we can all be taking preventative measures to protect ourselves from thunderstorm asthma.  

Some other things we can do to protect ourselves from thunderstorm asthma are:

Get an allergy test

You might think it’s sniffles, but it could be allergies. These symptoms should be checked out by an allergist who can inform you of what to do in a severe storm event to protect your health. 

Book in an appointment for the whole family ahead of this storm season.  

Make sure medications are up to date

If asthma affects your life, it’s wise to make sure you have all necessary puffers and medications ready before a storm hits. Check in with your local pharmacist and have repeat scripts ready from your GP.  

Check the forecast 

Victoria’s weather is famous for changing in a matter of minutes, so check the forecast  each morning for things like pollen counts and hay fever potential so you’re prepared should anything happen.  

Preparedness pays when it comes to the home

Safeguarding your home and contents in time for storm season doesn’t need to be a difficult task, according to Hayes.  
 
“Victorians can help protect their home – and peace of mind – this storm season by doing simple things like ensuring you have home and contents insurance cover in place,” Hayes says. 
 
Comprehensive home and contents insurance policies include flood (1), storm and storm surge cover as standard, in addition to providing cover for damage and loss caused by the impact of fallen trees and branches.” 
 
But don’t wait for the storm to hit before doing something to protect yourself. Taking the time to do some simple jobs around the house prior to storm season can pay off.

  

Garden and tree maintenance

Consider getting a professional landscaper or gardener to do a full overhaul of your garden before storm season starts. This includes hiring a certified arborist to inspect large trees and remove large or dead branches that could become dangerous. 

Check fencing, gutters and drains

Check your fencing, gutters, drains, windows, doors, and garage doors are structurally sound and make any necessary repairs. If in doubt, leave these jobs to trained professionals.  

Secure valuables and loose items 

Have an emergency pack ready to take with you if you need to leave your home during a weather event. Things like valuable jewellery, photos, important documents and spare clothes – as well as any medications like the above-mentioned asthma puffers. 

Additionally, loose items around home like sporting equipment, outdoor furniture or tools need to be in a safe place and under cover.

Stay abreast of the latest storm warnings

When severe weather strikes, radio stations like the ABC provide critical information about incoming storms. Also, make sure you’re checking the Bureau of Meteorology Victorian Warnings Summary regularly
 
The VicEmergency website and mobile app provide emergency warnings and information for Victorians and is worth downloading to your device this summer.  
 
So, while storms can be incredibly damaging to our homes and we should do what we need to in order to protect them, health and wellbeing also needs to be at the forefront this summer.  
 

Let RACV help you with expert advice on your home insurance policy today. 
Discover more →

 

Disclaimers:

1. Unless you have chosen to remove Flood, Rainwater run-off or Storm Surge cover where we have identified your home at risk of flooding.  Other conditions apply including that damage caused by actions of the sea is not covered.

RACV Home and Contents Insurance is issued by Insurance Manufacturers of Australia Pty Limited ABN 93 004 208 084 AFS Licence No. 227678. This is general advice only and does not take into account your individual objectives, financial situation or needs (“your personal circumstances”). Before using this advice to decide whether to purchase a product, you should consider your personal circumstances, the relevant Product Disclosure Statement and Target Market Determination. For a copy call 13 RACV (13 7228).

 


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